Our conversation is with Charles J. Garard, a long-time Network member who has taught all levels of English and writing courses at the college level. In addition to teaching in the U.S., Charles taught English in Anshan, China, at the Anshan University of Science and Technology, for several years. He received his Ph.D. in 1987 from Southern Illinois University by writing a dissertation on John Fowles.
But today we’re going to talk to Charles about his horror books – The Dark Journeys Trilogy: Dark Neighborhoods, Dark Corridors, and Dark Journeys. Charles describes these books as “Paranormal horror / supernatural; probably for age 18 and up because of the complexity of the material and narrative, not because of any R-rated reasons. That said, I have taught some very advanced students in my life – Chinese particularly in this country as well as in China.”
The first novel in this trilogy, Dark Neighborhoods, takes place in Atlanta and, for a small part, on a farm in Illinois. It deals with entities from another dimension who want to take over our world because we have not taken care of it. In ancient Greece, they became the lamiae; in modern-day Indonesia, they became the hideous female creatures the kuntianak. They are tracking mythologist Dr. Harper Paget because they have been the enemies of his ancestors for centuries and because of his continuing research about them. Likewise, he and his colleagues are hunting them.
Writers-Editors Network: Charles, what inspired you to write The Dark Journeys Trilogy?
Charles Garard: For a long time, I had a horror novel in me that I had wanted to get out. It began in graduate school as a short story titled “The Planchette,” and this section appears in an early chapter in Dark Neighborhoods. I grew up with horror movies in my Dad’s small-town movie theatres, so the love of horror didn’t leave for a long while. The third part of the trilogy began as a mainstream / literary work called “Waterfield.” Even while in China I had it printed as a mainstream work for classroom use. However, it didn’t seem to go anywhere, so I put it on a back shelf for a while. Portions of Dark Journeys and Dark Corridors actually began as portions of non-genre fiction.
Writers-Editors Network: Do you outline your books first; or just start writing?
Charles Garard: Rarely outline. I keep many journals and am likely to write notes anywhere – in notebook journals, on note pads, etc. Sometimes I write a scene in a journal before typing it on a computer, and that often turns into an informal outline without numbers. I never liked outlines, even when working on my dissertation for the PhD (and that was when I really should have used them).
Writers-Editors Network: What was your favorite scene or character or chapter to write?
Charles Garard: Difficult question: each novel takes place in a different locale. I like most parts of Dark Corridors because I could write based on experiences in China – even taking actual injuries and turning them into horror scenes. I like being inventive, and the jumping around in Dark Corridors from the present in China to a small town memory back in Illinois was fun but challenging. I only hope it is not too challenging for readers. I like the characters in novel number 3, Dark Journeys, because Dr. Harper Paget is not the only main character, but one of several main characters occupying the stage. In this novel, I get to be several characters, putting my neuroses into more than one poor sucker who is at the mercy of my memory.
Writers-Editors Network: What was the biggest challenge in bringing this trilogy to publication?
Charles Garard: When I decided to go digital instead of the old-fashioned print route, I had to realize that I was really on my own. No Maxwell Perkins for Thomas Wolfe or Ernest Hemingway. I had received enough “get lost” letters from agents who had not seen my actual writing, but judged based on overall details or summaries, and made decisions based on personal taste. After the last of those “nothing against your writing . . . but” letters, I gave up. I first considered the CreateSpace option, but did not receive the help I needed for that endeavor. Also, I was still in China and learned that I would not see any print versions over there. So a big challenge was working through the stringent formatting requirements of Amazon to post e-books.
Writers-Editors Network: Do you plan on writing more books in this series?
Charles Garard: My brother thinks I should stop with these three. I have considered continuing with Dr. Harper Paget in another work, but I think I will work on other waiting, half-written projects first. I have a time-travel novel nearing completion now, and an Atlantis novel waiting in the wings. If the Dark Journeys Trilogy were to take off and I were asked to write a fourth, I might.
Writers-Editors Network: Do you only write horror?
Charles Garard: No. When I was teaching in China, I discovered that many Chinese students believed the word “horror” meant the same as “horrible.” They would use one word when they meant to use another. If I only write horror, I would be sure to alienate a lot of friends and former students in China who are really afraid of horror stories. (For some reason, the Japanese and the Koreans love horror stories / movies. Many of ours are remakes of theirs. China is the opposite; they seem to copy us.) Yes. China has its own ghost legends and horror stories, but that is another issue . . . and maybe a future novel.
I didn’t start out to write in this genre, even though I always loved horror and sci-fi. Now I have a particular love for time-travel novels (and films), and even non-sci-fi readers like time travel (I have heard), such as time-travel historical romance. For years, I had non-horror ideas up my sleeve, but they seemed to go nowhere. I seemed to need the genre category to be able to use my imagination. I have two uncompleted mainstream novels based on my experiences in China, but I am still not sure what to do with them. I did use China experiences in Dark Corridors, as I mention above, and may use another Chinese story/experience in a future time-travel genre boundary. I even considered writing a nonfiction work about China, but I ran into problems regarding freedom and respect for persons who are still there.
How he writes . . .
Writers-Editors Network: Where is your favorite place to write books?
Charles Garard: Depends on where I am and where the computer happens to be. With a desktop computer in China, I had to write where the computer was located. With two laptops at my disposal here in the U.S., I have more latitude and can now work inside with the Dell at the office desk, or carry my Mac outside to work under the umbrella on the sun deck that belongs to the apartment complex.
Writers-Editors Network: Do you have any writing rituals?
Charles Garard: Forcing myself to get my ass into the chair in front of the computer, even when I am suffering from severe depression. I now use one computer for writing to people on various sites in order to promote my work and help them promote theirs. The other keeps me writing the actual recent novel itself in two formats – one for Amazon and another format for a different platform I am considering.
Writers-Editors Network: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Charles Garard: I grew up in the atmosphere of my father’s small-town movie theatres. In fact, Dark Journeys uses his closed theatre in Warrick (Warsaw, IL in real life) as an important background. I can remember being in the seventh grade and writing something insignificant in a small book. I remember writing in there that maybe I should be a writer – the seventh grade! It never left me, even throughout high school, the Navy, college, and two graduate schools.
Writers-Editors Network: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Charles Garard: Reading . . . particularly about materials I might need for a novel – time travel, for example. I like writing reviews for books I had just finished for Goodreads: Star Ancestors, Life with a Cosmic Clearance, The Shadow Market (I am also a conspiracy nut and like Jesse Ventura and Jim Marrs type books), books about writing fiction – building characters, writing horror. I barely thumb through Poets and Writers but look for helpful updates in FWR.
I have had to promote this trilogy on various websites such as Horror Hellfire Club, Paranormal Horror Freaks (this site is way out there, but I have posted some photos that I claim are scenes from the novels on these sites, but are usually photos I took in China). I have met some other great writers on these sites (although I have had little luck with Pinterest and Horror Aficionados). On one site about Self-Promoting, I have swapped “shares” with other writers and met some great, supportive writers.
His advice to writers . . .
I remember writing to a friend from graduate school, now a registrar at a community college in Kentucky, and hearing back from him a compliment about my perseverance. I guess that is the key word: persevere. Don’t give up.
Don’t expect to make money . . . at least immediately. Even if you go the e-book route as I and others have done, don’t choose this route because you think it is easier. If your writing is not good or you are careless (like many of the people who write anything they feel like on Facebook and other places on the Internet), you don’t need an agent or publisher to tell you that you are no good. Yet. Write because you love to write . . . and because you can’t NOT write.
This best art always comes from a passion, from a desire to get it out there . . . out of ourselves. Do not say to others: “Oh, I could write a book like that.” Do it. Don’t just talk about it. And if you can’t … don’t waste your time pretending. And if you are too lazy to use correct grammar and punctuation, don’t make all e-book writers look bad just because you self-edited.
You hear of popular horror writers today like Stephen King or, if lucky, read the stories of philosopher and writer Harlan Ellison. But how many good writers are not heard of . . . until, maybe, centuries from now? You have heard of Edgar Allen Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. But how many horror writers have you heard of that were published, and maybe still are available in print somewhere, that the populace has not heard of? If you write sci-fi, don’t just watch Star Trek and think you know sci-fi. Don’t read King and think you know horror. Read other literature. If you want a list of the greatest literature ever, look for me on Goodreads.
Final cranky note: Never stop learning.